Thursday, 10 February 2011

Bondway Tower in Vauxhall refused by Secretary of State - inadequate provision of open space

In March last year, Lambeth Council refused to grant planning permission for a proposed 42-storey tower in Vauxhall, known as Bondway.  The Bondway's developers (London and Regional) appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, and a public enquiry was held in July/August last year.  On account of a conflict over the size of the proposal (over 150 units) which fits with government plans to create more housing and the perceived risk to a World Heritage site, the appeal was passed to the Secretary of State (Eric Pickles) for a decision to be made.  The Planning Inspector recommended that London and Regional's appeal be dismissed and the Secretary of State agreed.  Consequently, the ruling is that the Bondway Tower should not be built.

The Secretary of State considered that the proposed Bondway's greatest shortcoming was the relationship of the building to its surroundings.  Whilst the building was considered sustainable and with certain design merits, it lacked "well planned public open spaces" and the proposals apparently also failed to provide adequate pedestrian links to the wider public realm.  In addition, the "visual mass" of the building was felt to be "overbearing in relation to its surroundings".  Also, the Secretary of State agreed with the Planning Inspector that the lack of amenity space (particularly children's play area) could not be solved by the developer acquiring more land.

Such a conclusion should alarm developers who are based anywhere within the Vauxhall Nine Elms Opportunity Area, since much of the open space available to the surrounding buildings is likely to be provided (or so we've been told) in the form of a linear park.  If Vauxhall Park (and surrounds) are judged not to be enough public open space for the Bondway, then it may well be that additional public space will have to be found (which means "given up" by developers) in order to progress any of the new developments within Vauxhall/Nine Elms, where the amount of open space is said to be very low.  Of course, it also means that the Vauxhall Square developers (CLS) have been quite clever with their proposals, which include the incorporation of a large public square...

Concerning the Westminster World Heritage site, the Inspector felt that whilst no assets would be directly affected, the proposals might affect the settings of certain (but not all) listed buildings, conservation areas, registered parks and Westminster itself.  (That turn of phrase seems very unclear to me, especially when the former government controversially allowed the construction of the Vauxhall Tower by St George.  However, I think it does appear to represent a change in government policy which all developers will have to consider).

One point of concern for many local people has been the issue of overshadowing by tall towers.  Neither the Secretary of State nor the Planning Inspector concede ground on this point.  On the contrary, they argue that "Vauxhall Park... would not be significantly harmed by overshadowing" and that "privacy cannot be expected in a public park".  The point that is accepted is one of over-use.  The sheer number of people that would end up using Vauxhall Park would "erode its recreational function and the character of its open spaces".  It looks as though the argument against the Bondway was won almost entirely on arguments about open space.

There were some positives.  20% of housing supply as affordable was praised, as was the likely increase in employment numbers and indeed the "design of the tower".  Note that the site is still considered an "appropriate location" for tall buildings, so don't expect the end of this matter.  I imagine Residential Land will simply have to overhaul their plans to better provide for improved open space and pedestrian access.  However, it was felt by the Secretary of State (despite the good design) that the tower would be "overbearing" in relation to local surroundings.  The benefits are not said to outweigh the conflict with Lambeth's development plan, so this tower will not be going ahead in proposed form.  (Of course, there's room to appeal again through the High Court, but I imagine it would likely be cheaper just to re-work the plans).

The matter of transport is more interesting, and whilst the Inspector and the Secretary of State seem to think that the development promotes a reduction in the need to travel and use of sustainable transport choices, neither of them enter into discussion about transport capacity, which is a point continually raised by users of Vauxhall tube station....  One of my Twitter followers posted this scene at Vauxhall tube the other day with the caption "Vauxhall station this morning. Not an unusual occurrence":

Vauxhall station this morning. Not an unusual occurrence. on Twitpic

I'd argue that this decision represents a significant victory for the local people who intervened and made representations against the building at the enquiry during the summer. Yes, most residents (myself included) support sensible redevelopment and regeneration in the heart of Vauxhall. There's room for improvement. However, such improvement should not be undertaken at the cost of current residents or in a manner that seeks to exploit public amenities. I'm delighted that the Secretary of State has dismissed the appeal.

Thanks to Tradescant blog, the full report of the Bondway appeal can be found here.

1 comment:

Mark said...

The first question that jumps to my mind is whether or not the building will still be considered "overbearing in relation to its surroundings" if Vauxhall Square, Sainsbury's Nine Elms, and Vauxhall Island all get the go-ahead. All have a provision of a reasonable amount of public open space (albeit paved).

In any case, might be an interesting discussion with the Vauxhall Square people at the consultation.

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